Metro Council to reconsider funding for electronic poll books

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 6:37pm

Expanding electronic poll books to all Nashville voting precincts will be back before the Metro Council two weeks after it withheld funds to facilitate the move.

Councilman Charlie Tygad has filed a resolution that would restore $400,000 to the Davidson County Election Commission that it planned to use to bring electronic poll books to all 160 voting precincts across Davidson County. Amid concerns over the performance of the tool’s trial run during August’s election –– the machine defaulted some voters to the Republican ballot –– the council voted last week to withhold these funds.

With the filing of Tygard’s resolution, electronic polls books will re-enter the spotlight at the council’s Sept. 18 meeting.

Tygard, a conservative, told The City Paper that when the council amended Metro’s $8.75 million “4 percent fund” resolution last week to omit the election’s commission’s share it was done with the understanding that the $400,000 appropriation would be reintroduced. Prior to the vote, Elections Administrator Albert Tieche was unavailable to attend the Metro Council’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting to discuss the electronic books.

“We thought he needed to be there to answer questions,” Tygard said.

The election commission’s use of electronic poll books at 60 voting sites during the Aug. 2 primaries has come under fire after some elected officials alleged they were mistakenly given Republican ballots. The election commission itself voted last week to delay the use of the new technology during the upcoming November election.

But according to the election commission’s Sept. 13 meeting agenda, commissioner Steve Abernathy plans to suggest reconsidering the use of electronic poll books in November.

Tygard, who said he talked to two election commissioners about the issue, supports replacing traditional paper poll books with electronic versions in the future. He referenced “tremendous advantages in terms of labor savings and the information that can be retrieved on the spot.”

“The issue, no doubt, was training and unfamiliarity and, as I understand it, the company programmed it to default to the Republican primary, which was never asked for, never intended and, in fact, was against the instructions that were given to them,” Tgyard said.

“To me, if the problems have been cleared up, it’s time to go ahead and move into the 21st century,” he added.

The election commission has entered into a $777,000 contract with the electronic poll book manufacturer, but the final $400,000 of that sum is dependent on the council’s appropriation. The election commission already has the 440 electronic poll books in storage. Multiple poll books would be used per voting site if Metro decides to continue using the tool.